Let’s look at Georgia’s grand opener at the Georgia Dome from another, decidedly bluer perspective.
North Carolina comes in Saturday a 2.5-point betting underdog, but with no shortage of other positive signs and prospects.
Here are four things the Bulldogs must be most wary of in advance:
Don’t wave off North Carolina.
Yes, I know, as a SEC purist, you automatically suspect anyone from the ACC, just as a Millennial beer snob would a Budweiser. That despite the fact the two conferences are dead even head-to-head the last two seasons.
These Tar Heels are coming off their first double-digit win season since 1997. They are definitely a growth stock, and more real than some of the classes North Carolina had been offering athletes in the past.
This can be a season-defining game for the Tar Heels, and they know it.
Last year, in another rare match-up with an SEC team, the Tar Heels lost a close one to South Carolina. And the sting of that one hasn’t worn off yet.
“We don’t want to blow it, that’s as blunt as I can be,” North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer said during the preseason ACC Football Kickoff. “I’ve seen repeats (of the South Carolina loss) on the SEC Network, and it really is hard to watch knowing that we let that one get away.
“You usually don’t look back at losses or dwell on wins but that South Carolina game is still really significant. And a majority of the guys on the team this year were playing in that game. They know how it feels as well. It will be about not wanting to feel that way again.”
Chances are, Georgia will get the good Heels.
This is, like most teams, one with an on-off switch. On one hand, its last time out, in a second-tier bowl game, emotionally spent after the Clemson loss, North Carolina was overrun by Baylor (645 rushing yards). It’s also a team that put up nearly as many points against Duke (66) last season as did North Carolina basketball (76 and 73).
Don’t think there’s going to be big let-down in the Dome.
Said Fedora, asked his team’s level of anticipation for the opener: “There is a sense of excitement. You’re getting to play the University of Georgia, which has a tremendous amount of tradition, great fan support, all those things. We know when we walk in that stadium it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be majority red. They’re excited about that. They dream when they’re kids and playing in the backyard of playing in games like this. You want to play against great talent in great atmospheres.”
And, good grief, does North Carolina ever have a puncher’s chance.
Regardless of what Gene Chizik’s defense can muster against Georgia – always a question – offense is the great equalizer for Fedora and the Heels.
Last season they were ninth in big boy college football, scoring an average of 40.7 points per game. “And I believe that we have the talent to be better than our numbers said we were last year,” said Fedora, relying on a deep pool of receivers, running back Elijah Hood and rising junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky (who while awaiting the departure of Marquise Williams completed 85 percent of his 47 pass attempts last season).
Georgia is not the only partner in this dance who is eagerly anticipating new leadership behind center.
Here is one coach not shy about naming his starting quarterback for the opener. One not given to underselling his guy, either. “(Trubisky) knew his time was coming (after a three-year wait) and his time is here. I think he’s excited about it,” Fedora said.
“No doubt in my mind that he’s prepared because of the reps he’s had. Meaningful reps in games and in terms of spring where he was the No. 1 quarterback. Nothing is going to rattle him. I expect him to perform pretty well.”